Don’t Make Me Choose

Now that I’ve talked about what happened at the event, I want to work through a few things I would have liked to have said in the TAAAP Pride Chat that was supposed to make space for “people who object to there being a binary.”

[Crossposted to Pillowfort. Preview image by Matteo Magro, licensed under CC BY-ND 2.0.]

Personally, my stake is this: a binary of those who “use the SAM” and “don’t use the SAM” cannot account for people like me. The multiple different things that the term “the SAM” gets used on include tools I do use and tools I don’t, both important to me to emphasize, and that means that my simultaneous “using” & “not using” of this supposedly-singular bundle of concepts cannot be made sense of unless we crack this sucker apart.

As I’ve talked about before, there are at least 5 different things people use “the SAM” to represent:

  1. inappropriate universalization of any of the things listed below (as here)
  2. romantic orientation (as here, here, here, and in the ask message here)
  3. romantic orientation together with sexual orientation (as here, here, here, and here)
  4. a personal distinction or disjuncture between romance and sexuality (as here, here, and here)
  5. the concept of different attraction types or taxonomies of attraction (as here, here, here, and here)

Very commonly, though, people seem to presume several of these things are a package deal.

Because the term “the SAM” involves so much conflation, sorting everyone in terms of “using” or “not using” “the SAM” feels like asking me to choose which of two oversimplifications is more reflective of me: the convergent ace who “experiences no attraction” vs. the ace who both has a romantic orientation and labels attraction in subtypes. This choice feels like pulling me in two different directions at once. Using one concept supposedly “requires” the other, and disidentifying with one supposedly entails abandoning the other. Either way, positioning myself in relation to this term, “the split attraction model,” feels like being asked to evict and deny a part of myself.

Even worse, the language itself makes this issue nigh impossible to talk about. The “split attraction model” is — supposedly — a “model,” and not itself an identity term. It’s got “the” and “model” in the name, which makes it sound like one specific concept that you either “use” or you don’t. Consequently this format of “The [Blank] Model” makes it inherently difficult and confusing to talk about issues with that particular phrase. After all, if it’s a thing that you either “use” or “don’t use,” then it’s hard to express anything about “not using ‘using the SAM'” because then it just sounds like you’re repeating a word. In practice (ex. at the TAAAP Pride Chat), my attempts to talk about not using this phrase have been misinterpreted as “not using the SAM,” which once again coercively positions me into this exact binary I’m trying to tell you feels like a trap.

romantic orientation & my identity as ace

I’m invested in how we talk about romantic orientation and aces because for too long, adopting a romantic orientation has been treated as compulsory for us. I wouldn’t have to assert my disidentification from it if it weren’t for that. Inside the ace community and outside of it, it just gets assumed of us all the time.

That’s why back when I first started identifying as ace, I thought I had to identify with a romantic orientation. At the time I was just breaking off thinking I was heterosexual, so I defaulted to “heteroromantic gray-asexual” without really thinking too hard about the first part. It took me another year or so before I even realized this was just internalized heteronormativity, not a reflection of how I actually felt.

So me? I’m gray-asexual. That’s it. I have one orientation, and it’s specifically about sexuality.

This matters for conversations about aces and “the SAM” because of how often the term “the SAM” is used to misrepresent pairing a romantic orientation with a sexual one. It doesn’t make any sense to act like that’s not what it’s often a dogwhislte code for, despite not featuring “romantic,” “sexual,” or “orientation” anywhere in the name. To this day I can’t rule out that that’s what people assume of the phrase unless they clarify otherwise.

attraction types & my identity as ace

Labeling different types of attraction is important to how I identify as ace, but maybe not in the typical way. For me, “aesthetic attraction” and “sensual attraction” (but not any kind of emotional attraction) have been indispensable to my questioning process and internal life as an ace. It’s not that the feelings matter in and of themselves — they don’t really go anywhere, so that’s not what’s important. What’s important is that I can’t imagine how I would have navigated my questioning process and begun identifying as ace at all if I had never been provided with these tools for thinking about physical attraction outside the realm of sexuality.

This is especially important on this topic because the original SAM crowd — those who came up with the term “split attraction model” — have also been, in my experience, the ones proclaiming that “sexual orientation is who you’re attracted to, not how.” I am at odds with these folks in their insistence that the “how” isn’t what matters. It matters to me. Recognizing these experiences as “attraction” — and conversely, having a way to recognize “attraction” outside of “sexuality” — matters to me. Given that the term “the split attraction model” has been used in attacks on exactly that, I am definitely “using” a part of what that epithet is about.


So when attraction subtyping and romantic + sexual orientation labeling are collapsed into the term The Split Attraction Model, and when you use that to try and cleave aces between those who do or don’t “use the SAM,” you are asking me to choose between how I feel about the two completely separate concepts of romantic orientations and differentiating attractions. To me, this functionally feels like trying to choose between two different core components of my identity. As if the two are in conflict, somehow.

But why would they be? Why would using “sensual attraction” for a part of my experience mean I have to identify with a romantic orientation? Why would not using romantic orientation mean I can’t refer to my experiences of attraction by different types?

This is functionally comparable to defining “aromantic” and “allosexual” as if they categorically mean “aromantic asexual” and “alloromantic allosexual,” without room for mixing and matching between the two. It’s not that those intersections don’t exist; it’s that we need to recognize a much wider range of possibilities.

Using the term “split attraction model” as if it’s one thing that people either “use” or “don’t use” treats people like me like a contradiction in terms. Am I an ace who differentiates between types of attraction? Or am I an ace who doesn’t use the romantic orientation model?


Don’t make me choose.

13 responses to “Don’t Make Me Choose

  • aceadmiral

    The question of “who” vs. “how” is one of those nuances that is so important and yet one of those things that necessarily remains lurking unsaid. I think it’s especially where people get lost in discussions of quoi+friends, because so many people get caught up with “how” as trying to put a clear-cut measurement, e.g. magnitude or attraction “type,” but those are much too coarse for such a fine subtlety as what you’re discussing and what underlies a lot of quoi-ish discussion, but it is so hard to bring someone to see it; they really need to see it on their own (although I do think this post may bring some people along). I think most of the gap between what the definition of asexuality actually “is” as opposed to the “experiences little to no sexual attraction” way we express it lies here, in this concept. And while I appreciate it’s a difficult concept to grasp: there are many ways to break a metaphorical compass, and asexuality is all of them. We as a community need to know this in our bones, even if we can’t or don’t articulate it. So, thank you.

  • Linkspam: May 14th, 2021 | The Asexual Agenda

    […] Coyote discusses the false binary between “using the SAM” and “not using the SAM”. […]

  • A Modifier | The Ace Theist

    […] but it’s not your orientation. Your orientation has to be something else. As discussed in a previous post, the common line is that “sexual orientation is who you’re attracted to, not how.” The […]

  • A Quoiromantic Perspective on Compulsory Romantic Orientation | The Ace Theist

    […] Within the aro (aromantic umbrella) community, it has also become common to inscribe romantic orientation on others. Sometimes this is done implicitly, in general talk of “alloromantics” that may extend beyond people who actually identify that way. Sometimes, though, compulsory romantic orientation is applied to aces in particular. As I have discussed before, this is made apparent in posts sorting us all between “aro aces” and “allo(-romantic) aces” as if this division is comprehensive of all aces. Aces who are neither aro nor alloromantic typically are left unaccounted for — or otherwise misrepresented. […]

  • sildarmillion

    I had actually seen this before, but I hadn’t quite followed the argument previously. But after reading again having read your comments on my post, it makes a lot more sense to me AND give me a whole lot to think about!

  • It’s a Buffet, Not a Binary (Infographic) | The Ace Theist

    […] infographic based on the post Don’t Make Me Choose, where I talk about different parts of my identity & experience being pitted against each other […]

  • Ace of Spirals | The Ace Theist

    […] Don’t Make Me Choose, I wrote about how the objectors’ term “split attraction model” both does and […]

  • Journal Club: Bi/Pan Identity Pathways | The Asexual Agenda

    […] It was recapping some prior discussion by Coyote about where the term came from and how the phrase contributes to conflation and identity policing. – In this context, what might fit better instead is “differentiated […]

  • Dear Bi Lesbian Defenders: Stop Throwing Me Under the Bus | The Ace Theist

    […] All of these assumptions are wrong when it comes to me. So in short, to use the term “split attraction model” is to participate in conflation and erasure. It is not the right term for any of the things you could possibly want to express, be that romantic orientation, multi-orientation labeling, divergence, attraction subtyping, or anything else. […]

  • An Actual History Of The Term “Split Attraction Model” | The Ace Theist

    […] impulse is to simply continue to use “SAM” as if it can be neutral, please consider the complications and the harm that that can […]

  • Comparing Additive & Subtractive Constructions of Attraction | The Ace Theist

    […] that, see “The SAM” and its critics, A Timeline of Anti-Ace Blogging, A Modifier, and Don’t Make Me Choose. With that said, the scope of these objections definitely includes terms like “aesthetic […]

  • Top Mistakes in the Academic Field of Asexuality Studies | The Ace Theist

    […] 4) Reducing orientation to attraction. For multiple reasons, it is important for asexuality studies to leave room for the complexity of ace identities, as well as the wide range of differentiation and terminology employed by ace communities. Too often, asexuality scholars introducing their subject matter have glossed over the complex history of asexual definitions and leaned on attraction-based essentialism. This includes conflating attraction subtyping with romantic orientation, a problem baked into the term “split attraction model” by design. Examples of scholarship uncritically adopting this term include this article by Winer et al., the Kennon YA article, and “Asexuality & Asexuality Studies” by Amanda L. Mollet. For more on this issue and why it matters, see An Actual History Of The Term “Split Attraction Model” and Don’t Make Me Choose. […]

  • Gray-Ace & Gray-Aro Survey: Results | The Ace Theist

    […] is, including various free-write commentary that I don’t agree with (such as identity policing, wrongful terminology, antigay dogwhistles, etc.). The only things redacted are email addresses, usernames, and other […]

This comment section does not require an account.

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: